When you are planning to visit a place, you’d want to check whether there is a communicable disease or not. You will have a dilemma to gather information on what diseases could affect your travel plans, and what are the necessary precautions you have to do to protect yourself. You will also ask if you have to get a vaccine for this certain disease or if a medication is needed prior to going to the place. This is just normal, especially when you are a first timer. You wanted to go back as healthy as you left.
To help you, I have compiled some diseases affecting travellers along with a brief description.
Commonly called Bird Flu, Avian Flu originates from infected birds, not humans. People can get this disease after contact to an infected bird (such as chicken, ducks, pigeons and geese). H5N1 and H7N9 are among the many types of avian flu. H5N1 is widespread in Asia and the Middle East, while H7N9 has been spotted in China. Travellers need not to worry much as avian flu has extremely low risk to them. People with contact to live poultry have high risk to acquire avian flu.
Chikungunya is characterized by fever and joint paint. An individual with this disease has visited Africa, Asia, parts of Central and South America, or islands in the Indian Ocean, Western and South Pacific, and Caribbean. This disease is caused by a virus carried by a mosquito.
Another disease caused by mosquito bites is dengue. It is most common in tropical and sub- tropical countries. Travelers are advised to protect themselves from mosquito bites by wearing long sleeved yet comfortable shirt and pants.
Africa, Central and South America, parts of the Caribbean, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the South Pacific are the areas you have to avoid if you don’t want to have malaria. This disease is caused by a mosquito and symptoms usually appear within 7 to 30 days but can develop a year after exposure. Among international travelers from the United States, 1500 cases are reported every year.
Chikungunya, dengue, malaria and other mosquito- borne diseases can be prevented through protection from mosquito bites. Vaccines for these mosquito- borne diseases are rare, expensive, and/or unavailable. Chikungunya and dengue have no available vaccine yet. Malaria can be prevented by prescribed medications and precautionary measures against mosquito bites.
Perhaps the most common disease a traveler can get is the influenza or flu. It affects people in the tropical countries for the entire year, or in between October and May for those in Northern Hemisphere and for Southern Hemisphere residents from April to September.
Recently, the Center for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) has declared Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone as free from Ebola. Cautions are still in effect since the virus still lives with body fluids (semen, breast milk, and cerebrospinal fluid) of the person who have recovered from ebola.
It is great to know that there is a vaccine against yellow fever. You can get a shot from your doctor or healthcare provider. Yellow fever is widespread in South America and Africa. It takes 3–6 days for the symptoms (fever, chills, headache, backache, and muscle aches) to develop. Yellow fever can lead to bleeding, shock, organ failure, and sometimes death, which is usually the case of the 15% recipients of the virus.
For other diseases, please go to CDC’s Disease Directory. You can find a complete list of diseases that affects travelers with complete information.
PS: (I was dying to post this but I was consumed by my duties as a travel nurse. I intended to publish this a week before I fly for my assignment.) I was checking my books, and the internet what disease I’d encounter or acquire when working to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS- CoV) is the highlighted communicable disease in the region, along with the other known diseases. As a travel nurse, I am susceptible to communicable diseases, which prompt me to be prepared. I took shots for flu, schistosomiasis and hepatitis. And most of all, I live healthy.